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Monday, December 26, 2011

How Great Our Savior!

How Great Our Savior!

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Romans 3:23-24 (ESV)

JUSTIFIED: dikaioo (to render just or innocent, to show or regard as as just or innocent); from dikaios (equitable in character or act, innocent or holy); from dike (right, as self-evident, justice); from deiknyo (to show)

REDEMPTION: apolytrosis (the act of ransom in full, riddance or salvation); from apo ("off" or away) and lytron (something to loosen with, a redemption price, atonement); from lyo (to "loosen")

Jesus Christ became our ransom, the payment in full that loosened off the sentence of death required by our sin against God. The Ransom allowed God to declare us to be innocent, equal in character to that of His Son, justified in His sight as entirely right in character and act.

How great our sin, yet how great our Savior!

Image provided by mokra

Friday, December 23, 2011

It's Not Okay to Lie

It's Not Okay to Lie

How would you respond to someone who casually says, "It's okay to lie because all I have to do is ask God for forgiveness and He will forgive me?"

Paul expected a similar question from his Roman readers:

"If our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us?...If through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?" Romans 3:5,8 (ESV)

Paul's answer: God is Judge of the world! A judge rewards right and administers punishment for wrong. Were God to forgive sin simply because one asked for forgiveness, God would cease to be a righteous Judge.

God does not forgive because people ask Him for forgiveness...He cannot unconditionally forgive sin and still remain the righteous Judge of the world.

The entire world is held accountable to God for violating His Law (Romans 3:19). Multiple instances of obedience to the Law are unable to cancel out even one instance of disobedience. Human attempts to rigidly obey God's Law in every point are inadequate in the sight of the Almighty Righteous Judge (Romans 3:20).

"There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:22-23 (ESV)

How, then, is God able to forgive anyone?

"The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law...the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe...and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith...so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Romans 3:21-26 (ESV)

Christians are not forgiven of sin because they ask God for forgiveness. No! Christians are forgiven of sin because God made Christ Jesus their propitiation by blood.

PROPITIATION: hilasterion (something expiatory, an atoning victim, figurative for the lid of the Ark in the Temple); from hilaskomai (to conciliate, to atone for sin, to be propitious); from hileos (cheerfully attractive, propitious, gracious)

Expiatory, or to expiate, means to make complete satisfaction for. It comes from a Latin word meaning to seek to appease or purify with sacred rites.

To atone means to agree or make amends for an offense. It comes from "at one".

To conciliate means to gain good will or favor by pleasing acts, to cause to agree or make compatible, to win over or gain the good will of. It comes from a Latin word meaning to draw together, unite, from a word meaning council.

Our work toward forgiveness, including even the simple act of asking for forgiveness, means absolutely nothing in the sight of The Almighty Righteous Judge of the world. Only the work accomplished by Christ Jesus is effective. Only through His perfect obedience and sacrifice for our sin can we hope for forgiveness from God.

The sacrifice of Christ Jesus satisfied the requirement for punishment that we deserve for our sin. The life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ Jesus makes forgiveness possible for us.

God becomes both just (Rewarder of good and Punisher of sin) and the justifier (Forgiver of sin).

This forgiveness of sin is effective, or valid, only for "the one who has faith in Jesus":

"It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Romans 3:26 (ESV)

FAITH: pistis (persuasion, credence, conviction, reliance upon or constancy in); from peitho (to convince, pacify or conciliate, to assent to or rely upon)

To plan to sin, to allow time and means for sinning, with the expectation that God will forgive simply because one asks, demonstrates ignorance of how and why God forgives anyone. To presume upon God's forgiveness without recognizing the cost He endured for that forgiveness is to ignore the life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ Jesus. It is a presumption that is faithless.

It is a false sense of forgiveness.

It does not bring God's forgiveness and the sinner remains a sinner, accountable to God for punishment.

It brings death.

Image provided by Ted, Creative Commons License

Monday, December 19, 2011

Right In The Sight Of God

Right In The Sight Of God

Acts 4:19-22

"But Peter and John answered them, - Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard. - And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old." Acts 4:19-22 (ESV)

Peter and John stood before the most powerful leaders of Jerusalem, the religious supreme court of the Jewish high priest. In many ways, the religious leaders held more influence and control over the city than even the Roman Empire leaders.

Determined to quickly stamp out rebellious heresy as threats to their power and position, the religious leaders were astonished and speechless by the boldness of Peter and John and the irrefutable evidence of a miraculous healing in the name of Jesus Christ.

Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified carpenter, was at the core of their fear. He had claimed to be the Christ, His supposedly dead body had escaped from a sealed, guarded tomb, and the pitifully few followers left huddled in a small apartment immediately following the crucifixion had swelled to more than three thousand believers.

The Jews had cause to fear.

Without evidence of punishable crime, the court issued a gag order: Do not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Is such a gag order possible now, in our country, in our society? Has it already happened in our generation?

"But Peter and John answered them, - Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." Acts 4:19-20 (ESV)

JUDGE: krino (to distinguish, decide, try, condemn, punish)

Peter and John admitted that the Jewish leaders had the power, even the responsibility, to determine the rightness or wrongness of those accused of wickedness. The court was empowered, by human government and by God's sovereign will, to examine the acts of men and determine whether to praise or punish them.

Peter focused on the essential issue on which the court had to judge: In Peter and John's preaching and testimony, were they being faithful to God's will, or were they liars or lunatics?

How could Peter prove that they were faithful to what God Almighty desired? How can anyone presume to know the Unknowable One, The One Surpassing All Human Knowledge?

Peter rested his defence upon two simple, universal sources of evidence:

  • We have seen
  • We have heard

All that Peter and John preached about and testified about were verifiable. The things they had seen and heard had been in public view...nothing had been done secretly. The Scriptures they quoted had been in public view for centuries. The actions of Jesus had been in public view. The words of Jesus had been heard by scores of hundreds of people, firsthand.

If you speak of what you personally have seen and heard, you speak powerfully and irrefutably.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Imagine facing a judge accusing you of attempting to discredit the national religion, the only religion legally allowed in this country. Given your experience to this point, what you personally have seen and heard regarding Jesus, to what could you testify?

"And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old." Acts 4:21-22 (ESV)

The most that the court could do was to threaten Peter and John with imprisonment or worse if they preached or healed in the name of Jesus. The threat was empty because a large part of the city's population were ecstatic over the miraculous healing, and the court feared riots if they punished the ones who were directly responsible, or at least connected to, the miracle.

The singlemost powerful piece of evidence in support of the miracle was a 40-year old man. For forty years, most of the population of Jerusalem had seen firsthand this crippled man survive by begging alongside the road. The public knew this man intimately. They knew his appearance, the sound of his voice, his clothing, and probably even his smell.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Who among us has a long history with our neighbors? Can any of us say that there are people who have watched us grow up, that have personally known us, and known about our circumstance, for as long as 10 years? 20? 30? 40? What do you think God is doing through you in the lives of people who have known you for many years?

Image provided by Konstantinos Koukopoulos, http://kouk.wordpress.com/, Creative Commons License.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Unswayed By The Facts

Unswayed By The Facts

"But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name. So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus." Acts 4:14-18 (ESV)

Peter and John, arrested and brought to trial before the Jewish religious court, spoke boldly and decisively. The high priest and the select, inner core of Jerusalem's theocracy were astonished and silent.

What paralyzed these powerful men's tongues? Irrefutable, verifiable truth in the form of a beggar standing with Peter and John.

The beggar had been lame from birth, surviving only through the care of friends and family. After living as a crippled, helpless man for more than 40 years, the man was instantly healed by Christ's power through a miraculous, faithful command given by Peter: "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!" (Acts 3:6)

Now, the healed man stood with Peter and John before the intimidating Jewish court.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Why couldn't the high priest charge them all with lying?

Privately, in executive session, the court debated what to do.

NOTABLE: gnostos (well known); from ginosko (to "know" absolutely)

PERFORMED: ginomai (to cause to be, to "gen"-erate, to become)

EVIDENT: phaneros (shining, apparent, publicly, externally); from phaino (to lighten, shine, show); from phos (luminousness); from phao (to shine or make manifest)

DENY: arneomai (to contradict, disavow, reject, abnegate); from rheo (to utter, speak or say)

Faced with witnesses of the miracle throughout all Jerusalem, the religious leaders had no argument or evidence for their charges against Peter and John. The could not convict them of lying or deception.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Faced with irrefutable evidence, why did not the high priest believe Peter and John's testimony?

The essential fear felt by the Jewish leaders was that faith in Christ would spread throughout the population. The religious leaders had no interest in believing their testimony, whether is was true or not, but it was obvious to them that many people in Jerusalem did believe.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Should a leader bow to public pressure? Should a leader join with the public majority despite it meaning they must forsake what they personally believe? Can the Jewish leaders be admired for remaining firm to their convictions?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do you consider yourself a bold witness? Is a quiet witness better or worse?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What group of people in our society is similar in power or function as the Jewish court the Peter and John faced?

Image courtesy of Brian Turner, http://www.netvibes.com/steakpinball, Creative Commons license

Monday, December 12, 2011

Where Thieves Break In

Where Thieves Break In

Today I received a letter from friends who work as translators and teachers in another country. They are helping to translate the Bible into a language that has lacked anything written, not even an alphabet!

Their letter described something I always find intriguing, and important.

My friends were translating a verse from Matthew:

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal." Matthew 6:19 (ESV)

"Break in" is the English translation of the Greek word, diorysso, meaning to penetrate burglariously, from a word meaning to burrow in the ground or dig.

One of my greatest passions is words, and how words develop, and the literal objects at the root of words for abstract concepts.

My friends live among a people-group who understand clearly what this verse describes:

"In the hot season, people sleep outside and lock the door of their house. Thieves go around behind and dig a hole in the earthbrick wall big enough for someone to pass through. They take all they can pass through the hole. When the residents open the house the next morning, their goods are gone."

"Treasures on earth" means all the things that we own that we consider valuable, things that others might also desire. Jesus told this story to remind us that making things to be our treasure will only result in disappointment and loss. Jesus urges us to make heaven, the presence of God, our greatest Treasure, and we will never suffer disappointment or loss.

Thieves, or time, will steal or destroy anything on earth that we might treasure. But if we treasure most our enjoyment of God and all that He is, nothing can take away our source of happiness and security!

Image provided by Odense Bys Museer, http://museum.odense.dk/, Creative Commons License

Astonished and Silenced

Astonished and Silenced

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13 (ESV)

BOLDNESS: parresia (all out-spokeness, frankness, bluntness, publicity, assurance); from pas (all) and rheo (to utter, speak or say); from rheo (to flow, or "run")

ASTONISHED: thaumazo (to wonder or admire); from thauma (wonder); from theaomai (to look closely at, to perceive or visit)

The religious leaders greatly admired the bold, out-spokenness of their speech. Notice that their wonder resulted from seeing Peter and John, rather than listening to them. It was not so much as their words of reason, but their boldness in speaking that caused others to look closely at Peter and John in wonder and admiration.

The astonishment came because of the constrast between what the crowd had expected of Peter and John before they saw them preaching. Notice that the religious leaders SAW their boldness but PERCEIVED their ignorance.

PERCEIVED: katalambano (to take eagerly, seize, possess); from kata (down) and lambano (to take, get hold of)

UNEDUCATED: agrammatos (unlettered, illiterate); from gramma (a writing, letter, note, epistle, book); from grapho (to "grave", write or describe)

COMMON: idiotes (a private person or an ignoramus); from idios (pertaing to self, one's own, private or separate)

The religious leaders thought they had Peter and John nailed down as illiterate and "idiots" living in their own make-believe world. They had assumed that Peter and John were simply two hermits that had made their way into town to beg for food and mumble secret incantations and curses. The expected them to be mystical, secretive and, especially, quiet.

They weren't.

The prejudice and assumptions of the religious leaders disintegrated suddenly, not only by dynamic words of reason, but more from the bold, outspoken way that Peter and John spoke. They boldly accused the Jews of killing an innocent Man, One Who was the Son of God, One Who was mankind's only hope of salvation from damnation by a righteous God.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Read through Peter's message, from Acts 4:8-12. What things did Peter say, that for our society, are politically incorrect or outspoken?

First, the religious leaders were rigid in prejudicial scorn for Peter and John. Then they looked at them with wonder and admiration. Finally, they recognize that they had been with Jesus.

RECOGNIZE: epigniosko (to know upon some mark, to become fully acquainted with, to acknowledge); from epi (over) and ginosko (to know absolutely)

To this point Peter had preached only to crowds of religious people. The inner circle of leaders who controlled the Jews in Jerusalem had not ventured out of their ivory towers. But now, arrested and brought directly into the inner sanctum before the rulers, elders, scribes, priests and high priest, Peter and John had shocked the leaders into wonder and admiration. Finally, the Jewish leaders made a direct connection between these bold, outspoken men and Jesus of Nazareth.

These men had been with Jesus.

What did Jewish leaders know about Jesus?

Read Acts 2:22-24.

  • Jesus performed miracles
  • Jesus was crucified and killed
  • He apparently was resurrected from death

Did the Jewish leaders know Jesus had been resurrected from the dead?

Read Matthew 27:62-66

They had feared his body being taken, they had feared any appearance that Jesus had been resurrected, so they made the tomb secure.

Read Matthew 28:11-15

Despite their precautions, the body of Jesus disappeared. If the guards had been attacked and overpowered, the priests would have declared this publicly. But the priests were forced to bribe the guards, forcing them to lie to the public, claiming that they had simply fallen asleep, hiding the truth: the guards had seen an angel roll the stone back, revealing an empty tomb, and they had fainted from terror.

The guards, and the priests knew, absolutely, that Jesus, whether dead or alive, had left the sealed tomb without any human intervention.

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of the Four

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Why is our faith dependent upon the truth of Christ's resurrection from the dead? Would our faith be weakened or changed if we were to be convinced that Jesus were not raised from the dead?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What prejudices have you found in yourself? How have past prejudices changed for you?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What practical ways might God have us change the "color" or "flavor" of our church to reflect the diversity of our community?

Image courtesy of bxtr, image license agreement.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Joyful Despair

Joyful Despair

"For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" Romans 7:14-24 (ESV)

WANT, DESIRE: thelo (to determine, as an option; to choose or prefer)

GOOD: kalos (beautiful, good, valuable or virtuous, for appearance or use)

DELIGHT: synedomai (to rejoice in with oneself, to feel satisfaction concerning); from sun (with or together) and hedone (sensual delight, desire); from handano (to please)

WAGING WAR: antistrateuomai (to attack or destroy); from anti (opposite) and strateuomai (to serve in the military); from stratia (to encamp as an army); from stronnymi (to "strew" or spread out a carpet or couch)

There is a part of my deep inner self that desires good. This good nature prefers things that are beautiful or valuable. In these good things, my heavenly nature delights, feeling satisfaction and pleasure.

But there is another part of my self that desires to attack or destroy my heavenly nature. This warring enemy is encamped within my soul, its tents spread throughout my being, battling against the good I desire in every possible way.

Sin wants easy gratification and instant pleasure. Every good desire is tempted with offers of something that is cheap and convenient, providing a promise of pleasure that overwhelms caution or consideration. All desires of waiting for the best are pushed aside by warnings of pain or loss. The urge is to experience pleasure now, no matter that it is not the best pleasure, or that the ultimate cost of the pleasure is harmful or destructive. The battle cry of sin is Now! Hurry! Don't miss this pleasure! Immediate mediocre pleasure is better than ultimate excellent pleasure!

The law of sin is the law of Now. If there is a chance of experiencing small pleasure Now or big pleasure Later, sin will battle for Now.

When will this war end? When will my fleshly nature be changed? When will my soul and flesh both desire good and only good?

"We wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8:23)

Our spirits were redeemed at the moment of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf. Our bodies will experience redemption, renewal and regeneration at the end of this age. This is our hope, for which we wait with patience.

Now we resist, we struggle, we fail, we confess, we rejoice in our forgiveness, and we wait for redemption.

Now I feel a kind of joyful despair. Despair, that here on earth my flesh will ever desire the best, the truly good. Joyfulness, as I hope in the ultimate redemption of my flesh. Feeling my flesh's hungry desire for sin is a reminder of the reason for Christ's sacrifice and a reminder of His ultimate victory over sin.

Image courtesy of tanel viksi

Monday, December 5, 2011

Acting in Ignorance

Acting in Ignorance

"And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers." Acts 3:17 (ESV)

IGNORANCE: agnoia (the quality of ignorance); from agnoeo (not to know, to ignore through disinclination); from noieo (to exercise the mind, observe, comprehend, heed); from nous (the intellect, mind, meaning); from ginosko (to know)

Ignorance means to not know and to not care to know. The root of the word is to exercise the mind, to observe and attach meaning and importance to what is observed.

Peter was preaching to Jews, the religious people who denied Christ's divine nature and hated His condemnation of their lifestyle. The Jewish leaders initiated His arrest and demanded His execution, and Peter blamed ignorance for their malice and violence.

The Apostle Paul described ignorance as having a mind of futility:

"You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity." Ephesians 4:17-19 (ESV)

FUTILITY: mataiotes (inutility, transientness, depravity); from mataios (empty, profitless, an idol); from maten (folly, to no purpose); from masaomai (to chew); from masso (to handle or squeeze)

An ignorant mind may indeed be exercising, but only in vain. Imagine a meal of sawdust. You might season the powdered wood with salt and pepper, and the taste might be tolerable, but you can chew and swallow a plateful of sawdust and not gain any nutrition.

At the core of ignorance is a hardness of heart. The strongest, most inner desires of one who is ignorant depend upon expectations or assumptions that are false. From that false foundation results an obscured understanding of God, a broken relationship with our Creator. As more and more decisions are built upon the false core of belief, the mind and emotions become callous, sensual and greedy for impurity.

Ignorance murdered an Innocent.

Not all ignorance ends in murder or damnation. To believe that wood powder has the same nutritional value as corn meal or wheat will result in minor indigestion. But even minor mistakes, if continued for years without change, can bring illness or death.

Is there a solution to ignorance? It seems impossible to correct something unknown. How does one know what they do not know?

The softness of one's heart seems to be the key issue. A soft heart describes a person whose strongest, most inner desires are dependent upon expectations or assumptions that are true. For example, there is great truth and honesty in expecting to have limited understanding of all things. If I have a strong desire for truth, and at the same time I fully expect to have limited understanding of all things, my heart can be said to be soft: I will be open to correction. I will be quick to exercise my mind in checking the facts and experimenting cautiously with unknown situations.

A soft heart is not too proud to change. A soft heart is willing to admit misunderstandings and mistakes. A soft heart desires to learn and grow.

God, make my heart soft.

Image courtesy of D. Sharon Pruitt, www.pinksherbet.com

Friday, December 2, 2011

Abiding in Christ

Abiding in Christ

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:9-11 (ESV)

ABIDE: meno (to stay)

Abiding in Christ's love means depending upon what Christ gives through His love, which includes His commandments.

When Jesus first sent His disciples out to go from town to town to heal and preach, He told them to find a "house of peace" and abide there, eating what they provide. They were not to go from house to house. (Luke 10:3-7)

Abiding in the same house is a good illustration of abiding in Christ's love. Abiding means accepting all that Christ has done for us and given us, with an attitude of thankfulness and dependence. Christ's commandments are given in love, and He promises joy in the abiding.

Abiding in Christ's love means the same as believing in Christ:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3:36 (ESV)

Not believing Christ means not obeying what He has said. Rather than abiding in Christ's love, the unbeliever abides in the wrath of God.

Abiding in Christ means a physical, emotional, and spiritual connection:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5 (ESV)

Abiding in Christ is much more than memorizing Scripture or associating with other people who revere or follow Christ. The illustration of a vine with many branches implies a complete connection with Christ, involving a parts of life. Without this complete connection, we can do nothing, including exist:

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. John 15:6 (ESV)

What are the commandments of Christ in which we are to abide? What has He said that we are to believe?

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12 (ESV)

All that Christ did for us, and still does, and all that Christ commanded, and still does command through His Spirit, can be summed up in the commandment to love one another.

Abiding in Christ's commandments means depending upon His love for us, and doing all that we do with the motive of love for others.

And joy is the reward.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:9-11 (ESV)

Image courtesy of Roger Kirby, www.rkirby.com